In my hectic trip to Perth to see Tori Amos I also managed to see family, catch up with friends and eat at two of the trendiest tapas restaurants: Duende in Leederville and The Pony Club in Mt Lawley. The differences between the two were significant. I’d read about both in travel and leisure magazines and was keen to see if the tapas trend, which has become extremely popular in Melbourne, could be delivered successfully in Perth. Movida is exceptional and difficult to match.
Firstly Duende. I entered the premises alone as I arrived before my friend, who had made a booking. I tried to make eye contact with two members of staff and enquire about the table booking, but both ignored me. It wasn’t clear where I should go or what I should do; I felt unwelcome. Through the window I saw my friend parking and getting out of her car, so I went outside to greet her. When we entered together we were also ignored until my friend managed to stop one of the staff and ask for our table. This was not a promising beginning.
After reading the menu and ordering drinks – me a tempranillo by the glass – we ordered some food. From my reading about wine I believe that the correct pronunciation is temprannEE-O, but the woman who served us pronounced both Ls. It made me recall ordering the Italian soft drink chinotto at a cafe on South Terrace in Fremantle many years ago. It is pronounced kinotto but the waitress corrected me and pronounced it CHinotto. Not knowing or understanding the items on your menu is no way to provide quality service to customers.
The wine was very good but the wines by the glass were not on the menu and were not priced. They were described verbally. This is something I don’t like. I expect the pricing of all items to be obvious and to have a chance to read about them in the menu.
The food arrived along with another friend, and we ate and ordered some more. The anchovies on crostini (above) were delicious, similar to the ones I ate at The Commoner recently. It’s curious how dishes become quickly fashionable and appear on menus at quite different restaurants.
The pork with fennel seeds and raisins and the roast duck were both amazing. After more wine it was time to leave to get to the Concert Hall to see Tori Amos. As Duende had filled with customers the service had strangely got better; more prompt and attentive.
The final bill was a shock at $200 for two well fed people with one more glass of wine for the third person who didn’t eat anything. The wine obviously cost more than I expected.
The next night I went to The Pony Club with a different friend. On arrival we were greeted immediately and given a good table, without a booking, in the front looking out onto the street. We ordered wine that was clearly marked and priced on the menu – a deliciously dry verdejo for me – and talked while waiting for our food. We had selected a variety of dishes and all were excellent.
The meatballs were served in a flavoursome but watery sauce in a large glass; fortunately the chicken cooked in a herb crust was served with lots of cous cous that we later used to soak up the meatball juice.
I would have preferred a thicker sauce more like that served with the spicy meatballs at The Victoria Room in Darlinghurst but overall this was a very minor observation to make.
The eggplant timbale with asparagus in particular was exceptional, though I must confess to be experiencing an eggplant craving at the moment and order it in many forms wherever I can find it. The tortilla was was also delicious.
The salad of rocket, walnut, sherry poached pear, jamon and blue cheese was amazing and the perfect accompiament to the other dishes.
The service throughout was professional and attentive, if a little tryhard and overly artificially cool. In my moodier moments I consider my 35 years to be early middle age and feel somewhat disconcerted by having a 20something woman in an 80s ra ra skirt asking if ‘you kids are ok with everything?’ Yes, thanks, but less is more. If you don’t call me a kid I won’t call you a bimbo. My companion, a tertiary educated and professionally employed woman also in her thirties, was equally nonplussed. We were far from the oldest diners there – the venue filled quickly and served a diverse clientele.
With the food at both restaurants very very good, their different styles of presentation and service became more obvious. The service, menu presentation and general ambience at The Pony Club were all superior to Duende.
After doing some research online and reading a variety of reviews about each restaurtant, another significant difference emerged. The Pony Club has a functional if not outstanding website, whereas Duende advertises one but when you type in the URL promoted in the September issue of the Qantas magazine (http://www.duendetapasbar.com.au/) there is no site there, only an ‘under construction’ error message. After reading about Duende on the flight to Perth (I often use the magazine to choose restaurants in places I visit) I was disappointed by this.
If leisure and recreation businesses like restaurants want to capitalise on the exposure they get through the lifestyle press, such as airline magazines, then a good website is crucial. I read the magazine and went on to pursue further information on which to base my decision about where to eat. Next time, I should listen to my intuition about the holistic nature of marketing and identity, and disregard a positive review in a magazine in favour of the impression I get from a upmarket establishment that promotes a website that does not exist.
Next time, no website, no visit. To pay Movida prices for less than Movida perfection is a sign of poor value. In contrast, The Pony Club was reasonable value, with a relaxing atmosphere and very enjoyable food. Of the two, only The Pony Club is worth visiting.